- Directed by Paul Greengrass
- December 25, 2020
A civil war veteran is tasked with taking a young orphan girl who was raised by Kiowa to her only surviving relatives in Texas.
In full disclosure I am not a big fan of newer Westerns of any type. Often they are about terrible people facing off against even worse people with the crappiest of the group victorious in whatever struggle is involved in the story in the end. Woot? “The less bad guy won!” For once I would like to see an old-fashioned good guys versus bad guys Western like they did back in the day. Something that embodies the mythology of the West and does not attempt to deconstruct anything-whatever ‘deconstructing’ means.
I occasionally do a little reading before I write my reviews. Nothing too in-depth. It is mostly to get spellings of names correct or to see if something I surmised was accurate. One thing that struck me concerning the reviews of News of the World was the issue some reviewers had was that the film did not seek to tear down the Western mythos. The story here does not seek to subvert the mythological West, but it also does not build it up either. A. O. Scott of The New York Times perhaps exemplified the thinking I encountered best. He wrote “this isn’t a bad movie. The problem is that it’s too nice a movie, too careful and compromised, as if its makers didn’t trust the audience to handle the real news of the world.”
What exactly is “the real news of the world”? Everybody is terrible? There are monsters in human form around every corner? Not every person is irredeemably terrible. That is the thinking of a small person. There is good to be found. And that is at the heart of Hank’s performance here.
Tom Hanks stars as Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a man who served in the 3rd Texas Infantry during the Civil War. Hanks in the role means the main character will not necessarily be a piece of shit but rather more of a wounded soul with something to fix about himself. Kidd finds himself after the war traveling around the West reading the news of the day in halls to anyone that will pay him a dime. He’s more of a storyteller than a news reader as it appears he tells a narrative around the stories he comes across.
Despite serving in the Confederate Army, Kidd does not appear to be a racist of any sort. You get the feeling he was conscripted and did his duty and just seeks to move on. He felt he was fighting for his home. There is also the undercurrent that the Civil War (and by extension other wars) occurred to only help the rich.
Is it just me or does it seem that Hanks plays the same character in every movie? Not a complaint. He comes off as an everyman. He is just a guy caught up in a situation he did not ask to be in nor desire and, at least here anyway, wishes to go back to what was before in his life but he cannot ever get back. Who has not found themselves at a point like that in their lives at least once? If not then consider yourself fortunate.
Eventually Kidd comes across an overturned wagon with its driver, an African-American freedman, hanging from a nearby tree. And that is when he encounters a young girl (Helena Zengel) in Native American style dress. Upon finding some papers he learns that she was being taken to a nearby fort where she would eventually be sent to the remaining relatives that she has slightly further south.
Zengel as her character says very little in this film. I am not sure if she knows any English as she is a German actress. She does a great deal while uttering very little dialogue. With expression and reaction alone she creates a fully realized character in Cicada/Johanna Leonberger.
There were instances where Johanna began to remember what happened to her original family. The emotion she communicated then was impressive for such a young actress. And the moments when she and Hanks were bonding felt real rather than just that they should be happening.
The cinematography is pretty good here but there are moments where some of what you are seeing is clearly CGI. I guess a lot of those old Hollywood sets that Westerns were filmed on don’t exist anymore and truthfully you just can’t randomly build Western towns for movies. Aside from the occasional fake looking building or CGI animal carcass there are some sweeping shots of the plains and the general environment that are really beautiful to look at. The real is quite impressive.
The story itself is engaging and much more drama than action oriented Western though there are a few action scenes in this movie. This is a drama focusing on characters.
With good dialogue and fine performances and a strong story, News of the World was surprisingly enjoyable to me. While down beat at times the ending was surprisingly upbeat yet not forced. This is a fine film and I think many fans of the Western genre will enjoy it. I recommend this!